Classroom Indoctrination Again: Enough! I Propose No-Tolerance

"Now class, I'm not going to say this again---no essays about evil guns, or you'll be sorry."

“Now class, I’m not going to say this again—no essays about evil guns, or you’ll be sorry.”

Dewey Christian is an English teacher at Denton High School in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and on the evidence of this incident, one more example of how our children are being warped by arrogant bullies and fools under the pretense of public education. The teacher told students to write a few sentences about whatever topic they chose—“a fun experience,” one student said.  However, when two seniors turned in papers that referenced guns—the Horror!— Christian scolded and humiliated them in front of the class, and told them that they would receive zeros unless they chose a different topic.

Fired, that’s all—that’s what this teacher should and must be. Continue reading

The “Do You Know Who I Am?” Prosecutor and the Strip Club

"My mistake--that's a POLE, not the Florida BAR! Silly me. I just made a mistake..."

“My mistake–that’s a POLE, not the Florida BAR! Silly me. I just made a mistake. Wrong address…”

Personally, I find few varieties of unethical conduct more nauseating than individuals of fame, position, power or influence who use that status to squeeze special privileges and considerations from ordinary citizens. From the cop who assumes that he won’t be charged for street grocer’s apple, to the judge who talks his way out of a speeding ticket, to the famous actress  who tries “Do you  know who I am?” when she’s stopped while driving drunk, this behavior warps justice, broadcasts unfairness, and saturates the culture with the toxic assumption of class and privilege, the idea that not only are the rich, powerful and famous subject to different and more lenient standards than the rest of us mere mortals, but that they deserve such treatment.

Ari Pregren, a Miami-Dade County prosecutor, was just fired from his job for embracing this tactic, and appropriately so. The fascinating aspect of the incident for me is that I am certain that his miserable conduct does not rise to level that the legal profession would deem professional misconduct. In Pregren’s case, this means that a state prosecutor who uses his position to get special consideration at a strip club is an unethical jerk, but not necessarily an unethical lawyer, at least in the eyes of the legal profession.

Hmmmmm…. Continue reading

Tales From The “Ick!” Files: If Luke Married Leia…

Luke and Leia

Emily Yoffe, who is not Ethics Alarms’ favorite advice columnist, gets one right at Slate—a weird one, but then, that’s the only kind of question she usually chooses to answer. If I had to bet, I’d place my money on this question being a fake. Emily acknowledges that possibility, but couldn’t pass this one up, and neither can I.

A loving husband who already knew that both he and his wife (it was virtually love at first sight when they met in college) were raised by lesbian parent couples who conceived via sperm donors found out that they both have the same donor to thank for their conception. Now he thinks “sister” every time he sees his spouse, and ask 1) what should he do? and 2) should he tell his wife that he has learned that they are half-siblings? Yoffe tells this poor guy to stop feeling guilty, and that he hasn’t done anything wrong. She also advises him to get some counseling, and to suck it up and tell sis about their dilemma….but not to reveal the secret to their kids, Anteater Boy and Tilly the Boneless. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Aaron Williams–Pastafarian, Jerk


Aaron Williams  practices Pastafarianism (The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster) , which is not a religion, but a joke, a parody of religion created to mock the advocates of “intelligent design.” It’s a good joke, but like any joke, it becomes an annoyance when it stops being funny.When it has stopped being funny and it is inflicted on an audience without good reason or its consent, it is irresponsible conduct. Continue reading

Picking Through The Wreckage of An Ethics Tesla Wreck

The wreck participants. Not pictured: the Tesla.

The wreck participants. Not pictured: the Tesla.

There was questionable ethical conduct galore in the recently-stilled ethics wreck sparked by a New York Times review of the new Tesla electric car, the Model S. Times reporter John Broder test drove the car from Washington, D.C., to Boston, using the  charging stations Tesla has opened along the way.  Broder’s Tesla ran out of juice, and the article concluded with a sad photo of the highly-anticipated Model S  on a tow truck. In short, it was not a positive review.

In response to the review, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk called it a “fake” on Twitter, then wrote a rebuttal using the data logs of the vehicle Broder tested. Broder wrote a rebuttal to the rebuttal, and eventually the Times “public editor” (others would call her its ombudsman), Margaret Sullivan, was drawn into the battle, performing an investigation and concluding that…

“…I am convinced that [Broder]  took on the test drive in good faith, and told the story as he experienced it. Did he use good judgment along the way? Not especially. In particular, decisions he made at a crucial juncture – when he recharged the Model S in Norwich, Conn., a stop forced by the unexpected loss of charge overnight – were certainly instrumental in this saga’s high-drama ending. In addition, Mr. Broder left himself open to valid criticism by taking what seem to be casual and imprecise notes along the journey, unaware that his every move was being monitored. A little red notebook in the front seat is no match for digitally recorded driving logs, which Mr. Musk has used, in the most damaging (and sometimes quite misleading) ways possible, as he defended his vehicle’s reputation…People will go on contesting these points – and insisting that they know what they prove — and that’s understandable. In the matter of the Tesla Model S and its now infamous test drive, there is still plenty to argue about and few conclusions that are unassailable.”

Perhaps realizing that his vigorous defense of his car had triggered the Streisand Effect, Musk took to Twitter again, this time saying that the ombudsmadam’s article was “thoughtful” and that his faith in the Times was hereby restored. This put a nicely disingenuous spin on the whole episode.

Here is the final ethics tally: Continue reading

More “Lincoln” Criticism: What Does Spielberg’s Film and Ethics Alarms Have In Common?

lincoln crop

I won’t hold you in suspense, and no, it’s not that I expect or deserve any awards. What Steven Spielberg’s justly acclaimed historical drama and this blog have in common is being unfairly peppered with a presumptuous breed of complaint that nears the top of my all time “Unfair Criticisms List.”

Here, the complaint usually takes this form: “Why are you writing about Chex Mix labeling when [Pick ONE:] a) we’re about to give up our sovereignty and let anyone just break the law to come across the border? b) Fox news lies to the public every day? c) there are unethical things going on that I care about more ?” Regarding Lincoln, the favorite criticism in the media and on the web of late has been that in the process of showing the sausage-making and political maneuvers that allowed the 13th Amendment to become the law of the land, Spielberg neglected to show the evils of slavery, which, of course, if he were to do without risking the criticism (which he would get anyway) that he did so in a perfunctory and inadequate way, would require either lengthening the film to an unwatchable length, or cutting out significant portions of the story he chose to tell. This obnoxious complaint was brought to a full-throated crescendo by Tony Gittens, director of the Washington, D.C., International Film Festival, in today’s Washington Post. He writes:

“Steven Spielberg’s film “Lincoln” will probably walk away with this year’s Academy Award for best picture, and that would be unfortunate. As Post film critic Ann Hornaday pointed out , “Enslaved people and the terror they endured in the 19th-century South are never portrayed” in the film. Mr. Spielberg did not shy away from depicting the extent of man’s institutionalized cruelty in his moving “Schindler’s List.” Why not in “Lincoln”? Worse, the film ignores the contributions African Americans made toward their own liberation. Instead, they are portrayed as loyal Union soldiers and observers from the balcony as Congress debates their fate. This was simply not the case. From the moment they were brought to these shores, African Americans resisted their enslavement, spawning leaders such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. In fact, at the time “Lincoln” takes place, Washington had a significant free black population, many of whom walked the streets in front of the White House. But this is not portrayed. “Lincoln” concludes with stalwart abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, a white man, in bed with his compliant African American housekeeper. All of the dramatic political maneuvering we had just witnessed on the screen, the struggle of lawmakers to come to grips with how to help make right years of unjust legalized oppression — all of this is reduced to the conjugal relationship between two disparate individuals. Here, once again, “Lincoln” misses the point.”

No, Mr. Gittens misses the point, and it should be a hard point to miss. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Columbia University

A Columbia professor charged with teaching his students the bewildering topic of quantum physics chose to employ performance art to send the message that conventional assumptions would be an impediment to their learning. Using projections, music, and himself as a performer (he stripped to his boxers and ate a banana before curling into a fetal position), Professor Emlyn Hughes got his students’ attention and tried an innovative approach to teaching. Now the university says it is “reviewing” his methods, with a spokesman saying that “Universities should have a climate of academic freedom though classes should stick to the subject matter.”

Translation: “Columbia gives lip service to ‘academic freedom,’ but it is perfectly happy to do what it can to discourage creative and controversial teaching experiments by publicly announcing an investigation whenever that likes of Gawker starts making fun of us, and the university certainly is hyper-sensitive to breaches of political correctness, since Professor Hughes employed gratuitous violence in his performance by having Ninjas impale stuffed animals.” Continue reading

When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Unethical, As A School Board Ponders The Profits of Child Labor

child laborWe learn about how seriously our institutions take their ethics when money gets scarce. States suddenly decided that ol’ devil gambling wasn’t so bad after all, once they realized that lots and lots of poor, desperate people without a lot of mathematical skills would fork over billions they needed to buy food with or save to move out of the ghetto in the hope of becoming a tycoon. I’m sure as soon as states realize that their legislators don’t have the guts to make the wealthy and powerful pay for lousy schools, more and more of them will get into the drug dealing business, like Colorado, and let the lives, families and businesses destroyed by the inevitable results of legal pot and cocaine become collateral damage.

Somewhere in between those irresponsible and cynical policy decisions way come ideas like this one, from the Prince George’s County Board of Education (in Maryland.) There is a new proposed policy in the perpetually corrupt Washington D.C. neighbor to make all work products created by teachers or students the intellectual property of the County, not the individual who created it: Continue reading

Manatee Reflections: How Can We Tell Right From Wrong When We Can’t Think Straight At All?

Interestingly, not the slowest participant in this situation...

Interestingly, not the slowest participant in this situation…

I think the greatest impediment to building an ethical culture is the relentless dumbing down of the culture, a process now driven as much by political factors as educational ones and Honey Boo-Boo. The last election showed that ours politicians fhave decisied that they only benefit from misleading and frightening the ignorant and logically impaired among us—all the better to persuade them to elect leaders not much smarter than they are, but probably more ruthless and dishonest. In so many corners of our society, there are no consequences for demonstrated intellectual incompetence.

The news media is a prime example. CNN’s Deborah Feyeric actually asked, on the air, whether the approaching asteroid last week was “the effect of, perhaps, global warming.” She is too ignorant to be on television: this is signature significance. I know science isn’t her usual beat, but nobody this incapable of basic logic should be interpreting news on the airwaves about anything. If she had announced the moon was made of cheese, or asked if anyone had ever found that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it could not have been any worse. CNN doesn’t care: she still has a job. Being jaw-droppingly stupid—the worse kind of stupid, so stupid you don’t even know how stupid you are—is no longer a bar to permanent employment in national media, in teaching, in business, in government.  Probably Feyeric’s bosses thought she asked a reasonable question. Continue reading

Dog Owner Ethics: The Suicide and the Pitcher

Does one of these nice creatures not belong in this picture? Ontario says yes. The correct answer is  no.

Does one of these nice creatures not belong in this picture? Ontario says yes. The correct answer is no.

Our life-changing events often become crises for our canine companions. In the news today: ethical  and unethical responses in such circumstances, by two individuals in the public eye.

The Unethical

Mindy McReady, the troubled country music star, committed suicide Sunday on the front porch of the home she shared with her boyfriend, who had recently committed suicide there as well. She apparently killed the couple’s dog before taking her own life. McReady’s friends insist that she didn’t kill the dog out of malice, but because she didn’t want to leave the dog alone. Granted, McReady deserves consideration and compassion, since her actions that day were not those dictated by a healthy or fully functioning mind. Still, I read of dog owners doing this a lot, and I’ve known a few—not committing suicide, but killing their dogs when they knew they wouldn’t be able to keep them any more, on the theory that the dog would be happier dead than with new owners. Continue reading